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New Jerusalems: Derek Walcott’s poetics of the Caribbean city

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In his poetry of Castries, Saint Lucia and Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, Derek Walcott both interrogates and appropriates colonialist and modernist utopian discourses. By appropriating these discourses, Walcott defines the Caribbean city as an inherently modern space, and in doing so redefines Eurocentric conceptions of modernity and cultural prejudices. Although he utilizes utopian discourses, and argues that the cities’ smallness, incorporation of rurality, cultural mixity, and technological innovation are ideal aspects of the modern city, Walcott is also perceptive regarding issues of spatial power relations and inequality. Walcott portrays town squares, parks and other enclosed areas as zones of exclusion, and reads these from the peripheralized perspective of shantytowns. Furthermore, Walcott criticizes the spatial coloniality and political corruption of the postcolonial city. Ultimately, Walcott’s concern is the everyday and embodied place(s) of the city, and it is from such a phenomenological perspective that the poet can draw artistic inspiration and sustain a poetic vision.
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Keywords: Castries; Derek Walcott; Laventille; Port of Spain; coloniality; modernity; poetry

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Essex

Publication date: 01 June 2014

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  • Cities have been increasingly at the forefront of debate in both humanities and social-science disciplines, but there has been relatively little dialogue across these disciplinary boundaries. Journals in social-science fields that use urban-studies methods to look at life in cities rarely explore the cultural aspects of urban life in any depth or delve into close readings of the representation of cities in individual cultural products. As a platform for interdisciplinary scholarship from any and all linguistic, cultural and geographical traditions, the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies prioritizes the urban phenomenon in order to better understand the culture(s) of cities.
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